Cholesterol, cancer: research finds potential super protein

Article published 14 November 2022

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We’ve all heard about cholesterol and the importance of eating heart-healthy foods to keep it in check. But you might not know that only about 20 per cent of our cholesterol comes from our diet. The rest is made in our body, in our liver, intestines and brain.

Cholesterol is a fundamental building block for our cell membranes.

The production of hormones like testosterone and oestrogen in our body depends on cholesterol.

Cholesterol is only bad if it escapes the bubble in which it travels through our bloodstream. It then can stay in our arteries and cause blockages. The problem is, cholesterol does escape a lot, although otherwise, cholesterol is a useful fat.

Researchers from the University of NSW have discovered that an under-the-radar protein, ERG28, plays a supportive role in cholesterol production. If ERG28 is absent from a human cell, that cell produces between 60 to 80 per cent less cholesterol.

The potential importance of that discovery is that it might form the basis or part of a new therapy to control cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Doctors often prescribe statins for people with high cholesterol to lower their total cholesterol and reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke. While statins are highly effective and safe for most people, they have been linked to muscle pain, digestive problems and mental fuzziness in some people who take them and may, in rare cases, cause liver damage.

“By studying the pathway for cholesterol production further, it’s possible we could find better cholesterol production inhibitors,” one of the researchers, Ms Capell-Hattam, says.

And, according to the researchers, it’s not just the prevention of heart disease in which ERG28 may have an important future role. Laboratory tests on certain types-of-cancer cells show too much ERG28. So, slowing down cholesterol production could one day sit along chemo as a treatment of some types of cancers.


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